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Living Small In New Mexico

Dog Tales

Virginia HawthornWell, in April, winter made one last swipe at us just a couple of days after the average last frost date in our area. That’s why the weather forecasters are careful to say average, I guess. We had not planted any tender things yet – we wait at least until May 1 regardless of what the Almanac says about frost dates. However, our little fruit trees thought spring had arrived, and the apricots had even set some fruit. As our neighbor said, her fruit trees got “thinned” quite a bit, and so did ours! A few small trees were really set back and a couple may not make it, but that’s the way it goes around here, and probably just about everywhere I suppose.

Anyway, it seems that spring has finally sprung and things, especially weeds, are growing like mad. Our new baby chicks arrived in the mail – Pearl-white Leghorns and Black Stars, plus a bonus free chick of unspecified but “rare, exotic” heritage. Hopefully, all female. The baby chicks are also growing like mad, graduating from their child’s wading pool in the sunroom to the big retired stock tank in the barn.

A Tiny Chick 

 A sweet little Pearl White.

Chicks at Dinner

Chicks in their wading pool home.           

Tales of the Farm Dogs

Now and then I have mentioned our dogs, and it’s time to formally introduce them. Our first farm dog was our darling Millie. She was a Jack Russell, very smart, very active (of course), fast as the wind, and a bit large for her breed. Millie could do anything, even spell, I believe. Her favorite game was when her mom would hide little bits of dog treats all over the living room – under rugs, behind cushions, in corners and nooks and crannies. Then Millie would scurry around looking everywhere until she had found every last one.



But Millie’s quick mind, athletic abilities, and urge to run proved to be her downfall. She was an escape artist, and probably always had been, since she turned up as a stray in the animal shelter in Santa Fe, where she was rescued by my daughter. There was no fence high enough or secure enough to keep her in – not even when the fence was hot-wired and she wore a shock collar. Neighbors would call us, or we would come home to find her outside the fence with the gate still securely fastened. We never could figure out how she did it. And as you may have guessed, my daughter came home one afternoon to find Millie had been hit by a car right outside the front gate. She is buried under the big cottonwood in the backyard.

Not too long after Millie came here to live, the Farmer and her husband decided it would be a good idea to have a larger dog to provide a bit of protection, at least with a big bark to discourage intruders or other dogs from coming onto the property without an invitation. And one day here came Buddy, obviously some sort of shepherd mix, with beautiful light coloring, a soft, fluffy coat, and a big smile. He came before the perimeter fencing was even completed, stayed around for a couple of days, and then disappeared again just at the point where my daughter had decided that perhaps he could stay. Oh well, back to the computer to check the listings at the animal shelter – and there he was, looking for a home! Obviously, some Good Samaritan had taken him to the shelter. So, he became ours after all, and took on the name Buddy because he was Millie’s buddy, as well as anyone else’s, dog or human, who came along. Not exactly a guard dog, but he did have some size and a big bark.


Buddy is a handsome boy ...

Buddy on Guard Duty

but not a ferocious watchdog!

In spite of his friendliness and lack of much in the way of smarts (he is sometimes known as “Buddy with no Brain”), Buddy can be protective of his family. He chases off any vehicles, especially white pickup trucks with dogs in the back, that have the nerve to drive along “our” road or ditch bank access. Thank goodness there is very little traffic along here except during chile harvesting season. He is an ardent critter hunter, along with the two Jack Russells (introduced below), and can dismantle a rock or brick pile, a stack of pipes or lumber, or just about anything else in no time flat in pursuit of a squirrel, gopher, lizard, mouse, or any other intruder. He’s a one-dog demolition crew, a talent that might be very useful if only we could channel it to tasks we wanted done instead of un-done.

One time, after Buddy had been living here for several years, he and the other dogs cornered something in an irrigation culvert and were creating quite an uproar. Finally, the Farmer decided to see what the problem was. There were eyes gleaming in there, so she went to the far end of the culvert with a stick to encourage whatever it was to go out – maybe not the wisest thing she has ever done! Husband and dogs were at the other end, when out popped a skunk and back jumped the hunting party. Except for Buddy. He flexed his muscles, told everyone to stand back, and WHAM! He jumped at that skunk, grabbed it by the neck and flung it to the ground, picked it back up and flung it down again, all in less time than it takes you to read this sentence. The poor skunk never had a chance to spray or run, and Buddy certainly proved his courage in an emergency.

In his younger days, Buddy was very fast, and displayed his heritage as a herding dog by running in circles to try to head off those cars and trucks he was chasing, although with no success since they were on the road and he was inside our fence. It was funny to see Buddy run to get ahead of the truck to “turn the herd” while the other two dogs ran to get behind the truck to chase it off. Now he’s getting pretty old and slow, with hip problems typical of larger dogs. But he still puts on a bit of speed now and then, he still has his smile, and he enjoys life in the sunshine.

Soon after Millie left us, my daughter decided that a Jack Russell had become a necessary part of her life. She really missed Millie, so back to the computer to search for another little speedball doggie. Bingo! Meet Sally and Rex. They were a special pair, not litter mates but raised together in a rescue shelter, with Rex being about a year older. But yikes! – they were in Cortez, Colorado. That’s 321 miles away, one way! However, after more unsuccessful searching, and more conversations with the rescue folks, it became obvious that Sally was the one … but the only one, please. Arrangements were made to meet the rescue family in Farmington, New Mexico, a mere 251 miles from here, with the promise that Rex would stay at home, since my daughter knew that once she saw him there would be no way to leave him behind. So, little white Sally came to Lemitar and Buddy had a new buddy.


Sally, built for speed and sitting on laps.

Rex was out of sight, but not out of mind. My daughter kept checking the computer and finding that he still had not been placed. The situation was becoming rather desperate, since the rescue family was planning to move to another state and really needed to find a home for him. Need I say more? Soon it was off to pick up Rex. This time I went along and we drove all the way to Cortez, where Sally and Rex had a happy reunion and we started on the long road back home. It was somewhere along the way that the Farmer’s husband, riding in the back seat with the dogs at the time, discovered that Rex suffers from car sickness. Oh, my …. Fortunately, we were well supplied with napkins and water, and Rex managed to settle down on the floor and make it back to his new home without further disasters. Poor Rex still has difficulty riding in cars, although he would really love to be a regular traveler.


Everyone loves Rex.

The three dogs get along well together, sleeping in the sun, digging for gophers, running races after cars and other dogs, and following us every step of the way as we work in the fields. Now I know where the term “dogging” someone’s footsteps comes from.  Rex and Buddy are especially good buddies, hanging out together doing guy things. 

Our farm is fairly close to the railroad tracks; near enough to enjoy the sound of the train whistles and far enough away so they aren’t intrusive and don’t keep us awake nights. But there is something about a train whistle that brings out a dog’s primitive ancestry. As the freight trains toil up or down the valley, they blow a warning at each grade crossing of each little farm road – and there are many. As the sound grows nearer, the dogs gather in a circle, point their noses at the sky, and howl: Sally is the soprano, Rex the tenor, and Buddy the baritone. Dogs are still only modified wolves, no matter how long they have been human companions, and even if they are little white terriers small enough to pick up and tuck under your arm.

Wolf calls 

Channeling their inner wolves.

Gopher hunt

Gopher hunt!

Jack Russells never give up when on the hunt, and they will go right underground after their prey. They were originally bred for going in after foxes that had "gone to ground" (into a burrow) during fox hunts in England. The fox would usually go out another entrance to the tunnel and the Jack was then retrieved by its stubby little tail. However, a cornered fox would sometimes turn and engage them in ferocious fights, and the intense little dogs were sometimes seriously injured, but they never give up when going down after anything – fox, gopher, mouse, whatever. Ours are a terrific help in controlling the rodent population here on the farm.

Enough with the dog stories – there are many more to come. Like the time they treed a squirrel in the engine compartment of the pickup. Or Sally’s pig races. And the times other lost dogs have arrived at our gate asking for help. Meanwhile, I need to proceed with my promised living small segment:

Learning to Live Small – Making Maximum Use of Space

When I first moved into this home, there was a large pantry closet beside the refrigerator, which had lots of space – big, empty space, unfortunately. The pantry closet is still there, of course, but I did some modifying which helped make that big, empty space much more useful. Since the top and bottom sections each had only one shelf, I immediately set about adding some shelving, simply using pegs in the pre-drilled holes and cutting some shelves to fit. I also put a half shelf at the back of each section, which provides space for smaller items while not blocking the view clear to the back. Getting those two small shelves put in was a bit tricky for me to manage, but they are very useful and well worth the effort.

Pantry door Pantry open

Views of the pantry.

Next, I struggled with the trash and recycle bins for a while, putting two large bins one behind the other on the very bottom shelf. They held a lot, but I had to pull the front bin out entirely to get anything into the back bin – something of a pain in the neck. So I shopped around on the Internet and discovered the somewhat smaller bins you see here, which are set in a rack that glides in and out with the touch of a finger. Better yet, I realized that I could mount the entire mechanism on the far right of the cabinet while still allowing it to glide freely. That left space on the left, where I store the garbage bags, extra cat food, and hang the dustpan and brush on the wall beside it. That dustpan had been driving me nutty for months because I use it frequently and needed a quick and handy spot to put it where it was accessible but didn’t fall out on my feet all the time. Finally – success!


Trash out

Bees, Bees, Bees!

We have now become beekeepers! Or perhaps I should say bee landlords, since the bee care will be provided by some good friends who had a bee overflow problem and have placed some of their hives at the far end of our pasture. They will do all the bee work while we provide the space and the flowers – the yellow hive is reserved just for Lucky Us. Such a sweet deal, and we could not be happier with the arrangement. I can’t wait to taste our very own honey!


Spring Projects and a New Shed

Virginia HawthornGoodness! I started this posting as a New Year’s message and here it is, spring already. I was feeling guilty in January because I had skipped December – but now I’ve managed to skip January, February, and a good part of March. It has been a busy, busy winter: Holidays; cataract surgery; getting ready for income tax time; several messy, snowy, muddy storms; and a lot of personal and farm projects that keep begging for attention. The weather has been a roller coaster ride: cold, miserable and wet, then warming up and drying out, then the wind comes screaming along, then back to cold and miserable, then 72 degrees and lovely sunshine.

SnowNearly 5 inches of snow.

In spite of discomforts and muddy footprints, I should not complain about cold and wet weather. Our winter up to February had been dangerously warm and mild, so this late build-up of snow in the mountains will be an enormous help, as we have been in a severe drought period for several years. In the past two months, snow has been measured in feet rather than inches in the high northern mountains of New Mexico and southern Colorado, a definite cause for celebration down here in the valleys, where the melting snow will feed our streams and rivers and fill our empty reservoirs. These late winter storms are good in yet another way, because spring was trying to spring too soon, so these periodic cold spells help hold the trees back and also keep us from submitting to the temptation of planting things too early. That way lies disaster!

Snow on Porch

Our front porch railing.

Snow on the mountain

Snow on Ladron Peak, our favorite mountain.

Spring farm chores are keeping us occupied. It seems like everything needs trimming, cleaning, mowing, and attending to in one way or another. Lessons learned while trimming brush: Always wear long sleeves and gauntlet type work gloves; never wear a fuzzy sweater, even if it is your oldest, rattiest one. And take an antihistamine before you start.

work gloves

Defensive gear.

One of the best things about approaching spring and longer days is that our chickens are laying again. During the darkest winter days production dropped down to as few as only one a day for a couple of days, but now we’re back up to about a dozen or more daily, and one of our lady ducks is also giving us an egg each day. Our egg customers are happy again, and so are we.

The plan is to bring in a couple dozen baby chicks very soon to build up our supply of layers. During a lovely warm break in the weather, the Farmer and the Farmer’s husband cut and baled the back pasture, which had been allowed to winter over uncut. These bales will make wonderful garden mulch and thick bedding for the chickens and ducks and dogs. There is nothing that makes our ladies happier than having a new bale of hay to rip to pieces, spreading it all around and picking out the tasty bugs and seeds.

Hay Bales

Another sure sign of spring is all of the activity around us as the bigger farms are made ready for planting. Large equipment rumbles around, even into the night. Workers are cleaning out the irrigation ditches and burning debris, and some fields have already been irrigated for the first time this year. Our sandhill cranes and snow geese are heading north, the hummingbirds will arrive soon, and doves are already looking for suitable nesting places on our porch rafters.

Learning to Live Small

Living Small is the guiding theme of my blog offerings, sometimes more obvious than at other times, but the idea is there all the same. I’ve decided to add some ideas for “Learning to Live Small” in every installment. We live on a small farm – less than 4 actively working acres. My daughter and her husband live in a fairly small home, a straw bale and adobe place she designed and they built, with a large sunroom across the south side. Their heating bills are small indeed. I live in a very small home designed by my daughter and myself, built with large double pane windows facing south, and high R-value insulation. And now that solar units have been installed, the electric bills for both houses are less than small. They are negative!

Solar Installation 2

Solar panels going up!

In order to squeeze myself, my possessions, and the kitty into these small quarters, we built a small 3-by-6-foot shed at the back of the house, which holds a remarkable amount. I ordered the plans on the Internet from iCreatables Home & Garden, which worked out just great. They have tons of plans and ideas, and I received great service. The plan came with clear instructions and a detailed materials list. When I decided on a narrower door, the modified plan for the front wall and door came flying back almost immediately at no extra charge!

Building this magnificent structure took much longer than I had hoped, but then, what doesn’t? Part of the problem was a very wet fall, with several rain delays. But with a lot of help from family, it’s finally done, painted to match the house, and chock full of my stuff.

Luckily, there was enough leftover material to build the inside shelving. I have made a vow, now made public and in writing, that this shed shall be used for things that I want and need, NOT for stashing boxes of stuff that I plan to sort through “someday.” So far, I have successfully stuck to my resolution, and the shed is nearly full and fairly well-organized. In future editions I plan to report on my methods of painless (well, mostly painless) downsizing.

Shed Building Back Wall

Starting on the back.

Shed rain delay

After a long rain delay.

Shed finished! 

TA DA – it's done!

Shed inside

Already full of stuff.

Shed Guard Cat

Kitty on shed guard duty.

Cooking to Save Money and Work at the Same Time

I’m always amazed at the high price for store-bought granola, which is often not so good anyway. So it’s time for a quick and easy recipe for super delicious homemade granola using only one pan and a big wooden spoon. No more spreading the mixture out on cookie sheets, trying to stir it now and then without spilling some of it in the bottom of the oven, and spending the rest of your afternoon cleaning the kitchen. I actually saw someone on TV showing how to make granola using a small bowl, a large bowl, a skillet, and three baking sheets, plus the storage container. The advantage of being a celebrity chef is that you don’t have to do your own dishes.

A few simple rules:

1) Use a large, deep skillet. My favorite is a wok, which has nice sloped sides, giving you plenty of stirring room.

Granola Wok

2) Assemble all your ingredients first. This process goes as fast as a stir-fry once you get started – less than 10 minutes, start to finish.

3) Don’t worry about details and measurements too much. Granola is very forgiving, so be creative and feel free to improvise and try new ideas. I’ll give you my basic recipe and then some suggestions for variety.

Ginny's One-Pan Granola

4 cups rolled oats – use old fashioned if you like a hefty chewy granola, try quick cooking for a softer style
1/2 cup chopped nuts – mix or match any you like, maybe part sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon flax seed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup canola or other light oil
1/4 cup honey 

Optional add-ins before cooking:

  • Chopped crystalized ginger – I always add a big handful, so good!

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons wheat germ

  • Other spices instead of or in addition to cinnamon – apple or pumpkin pie combination? Cardamom? Try your own special favorites

  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes

  • Substitute maple syrup or agave nectar for the honey

  • I’m thinking of using some crunchy peanut butter and reducing the oil somewhat. I hope it won’t be too messy

  • How about the few odds and ends of crunchy breakfast cereals at the bottom of the boxes

  • Use your imagination

Directions: If you wish, you can toast the nuts in the dry skillet first and pour them onto a plate to add at the end. I don’t bother to do this because everything seems to toast together, and I’m a lazy cook. Thoroughly mix everything together in the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.

You’re done!

Remove from heat and stir a bit to help cool the mixture and keep it from continuing to cook. My wok cools very quickly, but a heavy iron skillet will probably hold the heat much longer, so adjust time accordingly or pour the mixture into a bowl to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Optional add-ins after cooking:

  • Chopped dried fruit, your favorite(s) – you may want to add these as you use the granola so the fruit doesn’t dry out and the granola doesn’t get soggy or sticky

  • Chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter or vanilla chips – granola should be cool first.

  • Use your own inspiration


Yum! Yum! Yum!

Happy Springtime, everyone!